Do We All Need To Learn How To Date?

Yesterday afternoon, I met up with an old ex-boyfriend for coffee. He’s staunch Catholic who was seriously considering joining the priesthood while we were dating; he has always been a lovely person, albeit more conservative than me. (He also happens to be my token pro-life friend.) I was filling him in on the past few years and months of my life — falling in love, getting dumped, moving out — and how I am growing from it. In the past, I have felt overwhelmed as the caretaker in a relationship, and going forward I would like to be with a stronger, more traditional alpha male type. I used to be a more casual hang-out-and-hook-up-er before; now I would like to date with the intention of a serious relationship.

He suggested I check out Kerry Cronin. Kerry Cronin is a professor at Boston College and although she runs a philosophy institute there, she is most well-known for an assignment in one of her classes called the dating assignment. The rules of the dating assignment are as follows: Everyone — male or female — must ask someone else out on a date. They must do it in person or over the phone, but not via text message or email. They have to pay for the date, they have to keep it to only 90 minutes, and the only physical contact at the end of the date can be a brief hug.

You can check out Kerry Cronin’s rules of the first date (or “level one” dating) in the video above and videos on how to transition to “level two” dating and “level three” dating after the jump.

“Level one” dating is “fact-finding,” as Professor Cronin put it. All you’re doing is finding out if you have a rapport with the person and there aren’t any major deal-breakers. After three “level one” dates that all follow the above-stated rules, you’re allowed to transition to “level two” dating. On a “level two” date, you’re allowed to spend longer than 90 minutes together, but you’re still keeping things fairly casual in that you do things together that you enjoy. At this stage, you’re still primarily responsible for your own feelings. There is not a commitment yet, but you’re forming bonds; you can do “level two” dating for days or weeks or months.

“Level three” dating is the best one, the sweet spot we all hope for. “Level three” dating is when, as Professor Cronin puts it, you have discussed a committed relationship with the other person, you are responsible for their feelings, and you “bear the burden of the other person’s heart.” Such an eloquent phrase, isn’t it? What differentiates “level three” dating from the others is the amount of relationship work it takes: whereas before you were only responsible for your feelings and your well-being, now you take responsibility for the other person’s well-being, too.

In Kerry Cronin’s opinion, as she explains in the third video, a lot of young adults who are more acclimated to “hookup culture” than traditional dating will freak out about the idea of commitment because they don’t understand that it progresses naturally. They assume commitment comes with “level one” or “level two” dating, when in actuality, those are just the fact-finding and bond-forming stages of a relationship. The commitment and responsibility you have towards another person’s well-being — when you “bear the burden of the other person’s heart” — comes at a later stage after some discussion.

Kerry Cronin’s rules might be a little too regimented for me — like, they don’t leave much room for spontaneity! — but I can’t deny they sound to me like the structure I’ve been seeking. I have always been a part of the hookup culture and for the first time in my life, it’s not something I’ve felt good about after getting out of my last relationship. When I was in college and after college, I just thought hookups was the way things were — and to a certain extent, it was. I had a lot of fun at the time.

But being in a serious, loving, committed relationship for two years was even better. It was even more meaningful to me. Truly, it was the happiest two years of my life. I knew immediately when Ex-Mr. Jessica broke up with me that I wouldn’t go back to the way I was before probably ever, but at least not for a long time. I have no interest at all in friends-with-benefits, booty calls, sexting, sexy IMing, and all the inevitable “who makes the next move?!” panic that goes with it. It seemed like a lot of fuss for very little pay-off.

I went further with the guy with whom I rebounded with Ex-Mr. Jessica than I felt comfortable with afterwards. It wasn’t just the night we spent together, though. We had been sending sexy IMs, sexts, and even photos of ourselves before we even went on the very first date. It was super-fun and erotic and all those things, but deep down it just made me feel uncomfortable. I liked him a whole hell of a lot, but I didn’t feel right doing intimate things with someone I had made no commitment to and with whom I wasn’t even sure I wanted a committed relationship with. I felt like I was giving someone the capacity to hurt me without having the trust to back it up that he wouldn’t do so. This weekend, I told that guy I wanted to stop seeing each other — and immediately upon doing so, I felt relieved.

I’m not completely against hookup culture. Don’t misunderstand me — I’m not saying I have these deep, horrible regrets about the way I’ve lived my life. I regret very little. But I know I want my future to be different. I think Kerry Cronin is 100 percent accurate about how our generation has really turned the timeline for bonding and forming intimacy on its head and a lot of people are confused. I know these past few weeks, I sure have been, and I don’t want to be.

As I go forward dating, I think I’m going to keep her in the back of my mind.

[Kerry Cronin at Boston College]